Righting wrongs against child rights

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Despite legislation and the best efforts of civil society and the government, incidents of abuse, neglect and exploitation of children still plague our society. As we mark Youth Month, we are reminded of the need to work together to create communities in which our children are safe.

It is concerning that, as a society, we are quick to express disgust at crime against children, but when it occurs in our families or neighbourhood we tend to turn a blind eye.

The horrific incident in which five children in Springs were physically abused and denied access to schooling is a case in point. Following their father’s arrest, community members were quick to speak to media, saying the abuse had   carried on for years.  Yet, none of these “sources” felt compelled to report it to the police.

It is our moral duty to report crimes against children, and failure to do so constitutes an offence according to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007.

The government can’t fight child abuse alone, especially since most incidents take place within families. Communities are urged to work with the police, prosecutors and courts to help ensure perpetrators are arrested and convicted, and all cases are treated with sensitivity, to avoid secondary trauma for victims seeking justice.

The police offer specialised services to victims of abuse through Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units.  These units have dedicated investigators and resources to assist in the preparation and support of child witnesses, especially during the court proceedings. This is done with social workers, educators and victim support organisations.

The government has also established 39 Thuthuzela Care Centres, which are one-stop centres for rape victims.  Another important initiative is the reintroduction of the sexual offences courts. These courts ensure child victims are able to access justice in a victim-friendly environment. More than 2 000 forensic social workers have been appointed to deal with crimes against children, and provide expert evidence in court.

Children’s rights are protected in the Children’s Act, and it is essential for every child to know their rights. In addition, parents and guardians should familiarise themselves with their responsibilities, as set out in the Act.

We are mindful that many parents grapple with poverty and unemployment. To combat the painful legacy of our past, government has introduced a number of prevention and early intervention services, to assist parents in meeting the needs of their children. Among these are no-fee schools, free primary healthcare, school feeding schemes and social grants.  More than 11 million children benefit from the Child Support and Foster Care Grants.

Even with these initiatives in place, parents can feel overwhelmed. Such parents can still seek assistance by visiting their nearest social workers at clinics or Social Development offices.  The government has a number of support initiatives which parents in distress can consider, such as adoption and foster care.

The government appeals to families that can provide caring and loving environment to consider adoption or foster care. If they opt for adoption, the process is set out in the Children’s Act, which requires the names of children and potential adoptive parents to be placed on a register.

Recent media reports have brought aspects of the Act into sharp focus, around the issue of foreign parents adopting South African children. While these debates will help to strengthen our collective approach to adoption processes, the government places the child’s best interest first.

We are concerned about the reports of the neglect of children with disabilities. The Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini emphasised that government renders services to assist parents who feel they are incapable of providing necessary care for disable children.

She recognises that more needs to be done. “It is evident that we need to do more to educate and support parents with disabled children. That is why the Department of Social Development has dedicated 2014 to issues of persons and children with disabilities,” she said.

As we celebrate Youth Month, let us remember to put the best interests of children first, and help ensure that they grow up in a nurturing environment, free from violence. Let us all play our parts in cultivating a culture of community involvement, one that roots out crimes against children, and above all, cares for children, our future leaders.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)


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